Cream of Tartar (a lesson in baking)

It’s a commonly accepted notion that cooking is by taste and baking is an exact science. I reject the latter, somewhat. While I rarely measure when cooking, I do measure when baking but I do not go out of my way to be precise.

Experience and fearlessness in the kitchen give me license to experiment when baking. So, I am sharing with you a mistake and near disaster.

While making my popular banana oat bread, found on page 125 of “Gravy Wars,” I got the urge to use all brown sugar instead of 1/2 cup white and 1/2 cup brown. I also got the urge to add fancy coconut (if only to rid the pantry of the remains of an opened bag). I suppose it was 1/3 cup. Rather than semi-sweet, I used milk chocolate morsels.

So far so good, until I went to add the baking powder—one of the few ingredients necessary in the science of baking. I had only about 1/2 teaspoon and needed 3 1/2 teaspoons.

Too lazy to rush to the store or even bother a neighbor, I substituted with cream of tartar. My biggest mistake was failing to consult the Internet prior to completing this little experiment.

Cream of tartar is a component of baking powder, not a substitute for it.

My banana bread rose but not fully. Despite the peculiar tart after taste, it was good but definitely not my best.

Moral of the story: all was not lost and I now know more about potassium bitartrate.

Cream of tartar is the potassium acid salt of tartaric acid, a byproduct of wine making. Potassium bitartrate is used for stabilizing egg whites and whipped cream, adding volume to both (I wonder what will happen if I add it to my shampoo). It helps boiled veggies keep their natural color (I wonder what will happen if I add it to my suntan lotion). And it prevents sugar syrups from crystallizing (I have no ideas here but felt compelled to keep the parallelism going).

Use cream of tartar, baking powder, and baking soda as called for in recipes. Each causes a chemical reaction with other ingredients and acts as a leavening agent, but with varying acidity.

When looking for a substitute for baking powder, mix 2 parts cream of tartar with 1 part baking soda.

Mangia & Enjoy!

One Response to “Cream of Tartar (a lesson in baking)”

  1. Susan Subers
    January 7, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

    I saw this on Facebook and began reading not realizing who you were. I saw your third paragraph with the title of your book Gravy Wars and realized that we knew each other!!! Looking forward to seeing you again and your delicious cooking!!! I will need to try your recipe for banana bread. Have the recipe since I have your book! Congrats on your success!

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